The Determinator: Left Fielders: #1-5 + Honorable Mentions
Before every season, baseball minds across the sport test their skills with crunching numbers, diving deep into analytics, and reviewing game footage in order to determine who the best players are in the game. Often times they give their analysis fun names; one of the most notable being The Shredder from MLB Network.
Sometimes the results astound people- like in 2015 Hanely Ramirez was rated the top Left Fielder in the MLB before ever playing there. Other times, the results are unsurprising- spoiler alert, but Mike Trout was probably the best CF in baseball, and most likely will be again.
Every weekday at 4:00 PM throughout the next few weeks, I will be posting my own analysis on who the top players at each position truly are.
Welcome to The Determinator.
Today I will reveal the Top-5 Left Fielders in the MLB, as well as explaining my methodology for these rankings. Tomorrow will be the #6-10 Center Fielders in the MLB.
The Determinator: My General Methodology
The Determinator is a ranking system that is built upon the analyzation of 16 carefully chosen stats through a very simplistic system of comparisons. Some of these stats are more classical (Games Played, Home Runs, etc.), others are more advanced (wRC+, WAR, etc.). From this come 7 offensive stats, 4 defensive, 2 baserunning, and 3 general stats, set to contribute towards the importance of each part of the game.
The Offensive stats are: AVG/OBP/SLG, wRC, wRC+, HR, and Off (Fangraphs)
The Defensive stats are: Fielding, DRS, UZR (or Framing for Catchers), and Def (Fangraphs)
The Baserunning stats are: Stolen Bases and BsR (Fangraphs)
The Overall stats are: Games Played, Innings at Position, and fWAR (Fangraphs)
After determining this list of statistics, I then had to input each into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I sorted how each player did in each statistic from best-to-worst. If you were top 5 in a category, you got ranked as a ‘Green’. Top 6-10 was a ‘Yellow’. And, Top 11-15 was labelled as a ‘Red’. The number of each ranking was counted- so it was possible to come out with a score of zero- and given values of 5, 3, and 1 respectively.
Key Note: If player/s across a statistic had the same numbers across a border- for example the 5th and 6th players with the most Home Runs- then they would both be counted as the better ranking- in this case both ‘Green’ or 5 points- and replace one spot from the following ranking- in this case a ‘Yellow’ or 3 points. This could also stretch some statistics to include more ‘Red’ players who had equal stats to the 15th best.
Additionally, if no stats were recorded in a counting statistic that could fit into a ranking- as is seen with Catchers and Stolen Bases- then no ranking is given to those players. This would greatly increase the number of points given out, and lessen the value of each point. This is not true for advanced metrics that can produce negative values- as is seen with Catchers and BsR.
The results were then tallied, sorted from greatest to least, and a ranking was created.
Finally, player age, 2020 salary, and contract status, were all not considered in this experiment. This is entirely statistic-based.
The Determinator: Left Field-Specific Information
To easily work through and cut-down the list of 248 different players who played any amount of time at left field during the season, I set-up two separate boundaries for left fielders:
They must’ve had at least 250 PA’s during the 2019 season.
They must’ve had at least 500 innings in left field during the 2019 season.
This limited the number of left fielders down to 24.
However, without further ado, let’s get to numbers 6 through 10:
If a player led a statistic for their position, it will be bolded.
Number 5: Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates
Top-5: AVG, OBP, wRC, wRC+, BsR, Off, WAR,
Top-10: SLG, DRS
Top-15: Games, HR, SB, Fld, UZR, Def
Total Score: 47Embed from Getty Images
Bryan Reynolds has found himself in both a fantastic baseball spot and a terrible marketing spot, and the reason I believe that is because it took me until creating The Determinator to see that “Reynolds, Pittsburgh” wasn’t that I missed that Mark Reynolds got traded to the Pirates, but instead a rookie who broke into baseball with a fantastic season. His rookie season was overshadowed completely by that of Pete Alonso, Mike Soroka, and Fernando Tatis Jr., all of whom he placed under in the NL Rookie of the Year vote, placing 4th (with a 6% Share). All that being said, Bryan Reynolds had a great year in 2019, leading all LF’ers in AVG (0.314), along with great numbers on the side with a SLG of 0.503, a wRC+ of 131, an Off of 22.7, and an fWAR of 3.2. He isn’t great in the field, with a Def of -7, but did enough to rank consistently average amongst LF’ers across the defensive metrics in question. I look forward to seeing if 2019 was a fluke year for a rookie player, or if he can truly play to this level again.
Number 4: Tommy Pham, San Diego Padres
Top-5: OBP, SB, wRC, Off, WAR
Top-10: Games, HR, wRC+, BsR, Fld, Innings, DRS, UZR, Def
Total Score: 53Embed from Getty Images
The recently traded Tommy Pham will be playing his next season in sunny San Diego, California, a big step away from the depressing dome that is Tropicana Field, and he is sticking with a team that could legitimately make some noise in hopes of a wild card spot with the Padres. Since his breakout season in 2017 (6.2 fWAR, 38.6 Off, 6.2 Def), Pham has yet to produce a positive defensive value and has seen his offensive game take a hit. Luckily for him though, while this has happened he is still been able to stay a top Left Fielder in the game, relative to his peers. Pham produced to 3.3 fWAR in 2019, stealing a position-leading 25 bases, along with a solid triple-slash of 0.273/0.369/0.450 with 21 HR’s. He also graded out as average in defense, with all 4 metrics (and innings) placing within the Top-10 across LF’ers. He is reaching the end of a traditional peak, going into his age 32 season, so chances are Pham’s value will be falling in future years.
Number 3: Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Top-5: Games, SLG, HR, wRC+, WAR, Fld, DRS, UZR, Def
Top-10: wRC, BsR, Off
Total Score: 55Embed from Getty Images
If you told me that Joc Pederson has been in the MLB since 2014 (his rookie year in 2015), I would not have believed you, but Pederson has played in the greater part of 5 seasons in the big leagues and has lived up to the reputation of being a top outfielder. In 2019, Pederson wasn’t used a great amount in left field (525.2 innings), roaming around each outfield position for at least 149 innings each (or at least 16.5 games per position). His versatility not only shows in being able to be a suitable player at each outfield position, but also in his position-topping fWAR (3.0), along with solid Off (18.4), and a position-leading Def (2.5). He is currently slated to be the Dodgers starting right fielder going into 2020, but that could hurt his value as his overall defense in 2019 (-3.7) was heavily affected by his time in both CF and RF. Pederson is a bat-first player, with tremendous power (SLG of 0.538 with 36 HR’s), but it seems as though sticking in Left Field would suit his metrics best.
Number 2: Michael Brantley, Houston Astros
Top-5: Games, AVG, OBP, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, DRS
Top-10: SLG, HR, Fld, Innings, UZR, Def
Top-15: SB, BsR
Total Score: 60Embed from Getty Images
An All-Star each of the past three seasons, Michael Brantley has been a great player throughout his career, while surprisingly lacking in hardware (winning 1 Silver Slugger in 2014). The big problem came between 2015 and 2016, where Brantley averaged less than a half-season of play due to various long-term injuries, which many saw as a precursor to a derailed career. However, in 2018 Brantley accumulated 3.5 fWAR, and then bested that in 2019 with 4.2 fWAR- the second best in his career. Brantley is a complete package, joining Ryan Braun as the only players to record a Top-15 finish in every single metric from The Determinator, with this only shortcoming being base running. He led all LF’ers in DRS (10) and played well above average (wRC+ of 133) in his second straight healthy season in a row. Brantley could stave off a traditional fall after the peak years (ages 26-32), as he did all this at age 32.
Number 1: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
Top-5: Games, OBP, SLG, HR, SB, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR, Innings
Top-10: AVG, Fld, DRS, UZR
Total Score: 63Embed from Getty Images
As if Juan Soto isn’t currently the best Left Fielder in Major League baseball going into 2020. The 21 year old is an absolute phenom of the sport, and for great reason: he’s young, exciting to watch, and not only good, but has already made himself into a premier talent. If you haven’t seen it already, the YouTube channel Foolish Baseball put together a fantastic video about Juan Soto near the end of August, and I highly recommend it. To put it into perspective how good Soto is, at only 20 years old, Soto led all MLB LF’ers in OBP (0.401), wRC (125), wRC+ (142), Off (35.9), and fWAR (4.8). While Soto’s defense isn’t the best, it still ranks out above-average for Left Fielders and his health made him the leader in innings (1327.1) at Left Field as well in 2019. After placing 2nd in the NL Rookie of Year in 2018, Soto went on to place 9th in the NL MVP Voting (11% Share) in his sophomore season and should very well be seeing some legitimate hardware and accolades coming his way soon. Even though he has only played in two seasons, it does surprise me that he has yet to make an All-Star game. That will change- barring any unforeseen circumstances- in 2020.
The Yankees were without their expected starting Left Fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, for almost all of 2019. Was Stanton still able to place somewhere in The Determinator? Before I answer that question, lets quickly look at some honorable mentions:
David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks – LF Leader in Fld (6.2), DRS (10), and UZR (6.2), Scored 30 Points, Ranked #13.
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox – Scored 25 Points, Ranked #15.
Corey Dickerson, Philadelphia Phillies – LF Leader in SLG (0.565), Scored 20 Points, Ranked #16 (2-Way Tie with Eddie Rosario)
Curtis Granderson, Miami Marlins – Scored 11 Points, Ranked #21
So, did any Yankees rank?
Where is Giancarlo Stanton…And A Major Flaw with The Determinator:
As many people may have expected (or not, I don’t know), Giancarlo Stanton did not rank on the Left Field charts for The Determinator, which is a mistake based upon my method of calculations for this system: using only 2019 statistics to rank players.
Obviously, Giancarlo Stanton is a Top-10 Left Fielder in Major League Baseball, but he was unable to record enough Plate Appearances (72) or Innings in LF (69.0) to make the cut for left fielders. Those boundaries were set-up to cut out small sample size players and limit samples only to players who have experience (and should be expected to) play at each position in 2020. However, due to this, I had no way of bringing in players who had not played at that position due to injuries or being a utility player.
As I have been doing The Determinator, I have been running this analysis in real-time, doing so only a few days before each list comes out, and once I reached near the outfield I knew that this exclusion was going to be occurring.
As a neuroscience student, it isn’t unfamiliar to me to run data, see mistakes I made in gathering the data, and having to go back to tweak my analysis before running for the data again to get numbers that better match up with my real-life observations. With baseball, it’s also possible to align these analyses and projections to better match up to expectations in performance, which cannot truly happen in a laboratory setting. (Side-Note: I have never fudged data in a formal laboratory setting while in college. Just need to get that on the record.)
In my next iteration of The Determinator (yes, you’ll probably be seeing this again in the 2020-2021 offseason), I will have to determine a new way to accumulate statistics of players (going off averages from multiple years? using projections from ZiPS or Baseball Reference? etc) to rework my analysis in making a Top-10 by position list. That being said, I still do stand by my analysis for how this ranks players, even if some are unfortunately omitted, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t use some tweaking for the next time.
Also, I will be continuing with my current way of doing analysis for The Determinator as we complete the outfield through the rest of this week and beginning of next. Any chances would most likely be occurring for a second version to be seen next offseason.
The Determinator is a way I used to determine the best players at each position. Like any metric or formula, I am sure it has flaws. No statistical compilation is perfect. That being said, The Determinator, seems pretty effective at assigning player values. I’m pleased with what I have found using this method and hope this is a conversation starter for many.
Click here to see the #6-10 Left Fielders.
Check back in tomorrow at 4:00 PM to see the #6-10 Center Fielders in the MLB.